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The two best Test sides around are evenly matched but wet conditions should give England the edge, says Mike Selvey in the Guardian.
Despite their strident assertions to the contrary, the South African side must be underprepared, their plans disrupted by the weather at Taunton and Canterbury. In trying to claim that things could hardly have gone better, they are protesting just a little too much. The tragic loss of Mark Boucher may in itself prove an inspirational focal point for them, but it has seriously affected the balance of their side, with his replacement, Thami Tsolekile, not being risked and the gloves going instead to AB de Villiers, arguably the world's premier batsman in all forms.
Many batsmen who step up to keep wicket find their batting falls away. In a series where runs are sure to be at a premium given the respective qualities of the two attacks, this could be a risky option, and one that may not be sustainable throughout the series. The loss of the back-up paceman Marchant de Lange is a further blow, as their chosen replacement, Albie Morkel, scarcely looks a Test match quality alternative. One tweaked hamstring, as has happened to Graham Onions, one of England's reserves, during practice, and they are in bother.
Also in the Guardian, Rob Smyth revisits Johannesburg, November 25, 1999, when England made their worst start to a Test match in Duncan Fletcher's first game as coach.
With weary inevitability, England lost the toss. Rumour has it that Hansie Cronje even showed his teeth as he invited England to bat. Then Donald and Shaun Pollock went to work. Within 15 minutes England were two for four; one of those was a leg-bye. As if the scoreline wasn't bad enough, the four players to be dismissed were their only experienced batsmen, all England captains past or present: Mike Atherton. Nasser Hussain, Mark Butcher and Alec Stewart. They had 244 Test caps and 16,052 runs between them. between them. The next four batsmen shared two caps and 17 runs. Michael Vaughan, Chris Adams and Gavin Hamilton were all making their debuts, while Andrew Flintoff was back in the side after a 15-month absence. The whole thing felt like a perverse take on the defeatism that accompanied English cricket in the 1990s. You think being the worst team in the world is bad? Well cop a load of this.